Choctaw Nation among those whose prospects improve with Rocky's defection from Classic.

Choctaw Nation among those whose prospects improve with Rocky's defection from Classic.


Countdown to the Cup: Here Come the Longshots

If it's the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, you can bet (literally) that there will be several longshot winners. With so many of the grade I races this year appearing to be wide-open, with full fields, there is no reason to think this year will be any different from past Breeders' Cups.

CLASSIC – POWERED BY DODGE: Rock Hard Ten's scratch will lower the odds of several horses who had looked as if they might be enticing longshots. Saint Liam now will likely be a solid favorite, with Borrego a relatively close second choice. Starcraft looks as if he will be the big bet-down horse, and should go off as the third choice, despite never having run on dirt.

The loss of Rock Hard Ten also means that the price horses have a better shot to win. Although I have no strong convictions which one will jump up and run the race of his life, the pick from the heart is Perfect Drift, who may not be as gifted as the top choices, but is capable of beating anyone on his best day, and when things go right for him. The feeling here is that he is the one horse that deserves to win this race after three failed attempts, and that he represents something that has become rare in Thoroughbred racing -- a tough, hard-knocking older horse who keeps coming back year after year in top company.

This 6-year-old gelding was talented and tough enough to out-battle 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft  in the Stephen Foster and the brilliant Congaree  in that year's Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II). Whether he still has the ability to defeat horses of that caliber no one really knows, but he won't back down from anyone, and this is why he has a shot in this year's Classic. Also, seeing him in his stall, he is very much on the muscle. His eyes are bright and alert, and he just looks like a horse itching for a fight. When you can see that in an old horse who has been running with the best horses in the country for four straight years, you have to give him a shot at a price.

The other horse likely be be ignored is Suave, who actually appears ready for a career peak effort, having been mentally immature last year and having only three starts this year. His second-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) was only his third start of the year, and his first ever at Belmont, and he was picking up 12 pounds from his wire-to-wire victory in the 1 1/4-mile Saratoga Breeders' Cup (gr. I). He also was stuck behind horses the entire race, yet still finished 5 3/4 lengths ahead of the third horse after finally finding room nearing the three-sixteenths pole.

As a 3-year-old, he was still learning when he finished fourth, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by Saint Liam in the Clark Handicap, and he did not have a smooth trip that day either. He could very well dictate the pace in the Classic, and having already won at 10 furlongs, he may be tough to catch if ignored long enough.

A lesser wager can also be placed on Choctaw Nation, but it's not certain if he'll get the pace scenario he wants or if he is as effective at 1 1/4 miles. But he certainly can't be ignored. Oratorio is a guess and, like Starcraft, may be bet down to where he is not considered a true longshot. But he is a 10-furlong specialist and you can never discount Aidan O'Brien.

If you're really daring in your search for the unknown, A Bit o'Gold has run big at 1 1/4 miles and has an impressive lifetime record. This is a huge step up, but stranger things have happened.

The bottom line is that Perfect Drift and Suave are the longshot win bets, with both being played in the exotics with Saint Liam, Borrego, and if you want to take the chance, Starcraft, who just may be the most talented horse in the field, grass or dirt. The feeling here is that he should be taken seriously.

JOHN DEERE TURF: Longshot or no longshot, the enthusiastic play here is Bago, who is the most accomplished horse in the race. Although he hasn't won recently, his third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (gr. I) was a super effort. He had one horse beat at the head of the stretch, while losing ground every step of the way. He was steered out to the middle of the racecourse, widest of all, and finished with a strong late run. He looks great, is acting sharp in the mornings, and is very much the horse to beat, based on class, consistency, and a his ability to sustain his run from a long way out.

A few other points about the Turf, look for Shirocco, fourth in the Arc, to be the bet-down horse. He appears to be the buzz horse in the race, especially on soft ground. Remember Better Talk Now? Well, it seems as if most people don't, if you go by the fact I haven't heard his name mentioned once in the past week. Expect another decent price. Another horse likely to be overlooked is English Channel, a 3-year-old who gave morning line favorite Shakespeare all he could handle in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT). If he can settle back a little farther off the pace, he should be able to use his quick turn of foot with more effectiveness; an intriguing exotics horse. Speaking of Shakespeare, he is one of those rare horses who you can't take your eyes off. He is one of the most captivating horses I have seen in a long time, reminiscent of another superstar on turf, Manila.

EMIRATE AIRLINE DISTAFF: Don't ignore Society Selection, despite her non-threatening third in the Beldame (gr. I). She loves Belmont, but was forced to make what is known as the death move on the turn – premature and wide. She had every right to flatten out a bit in the stretch. But with a stronger pace and a better trip, she is more than capable of winning this race. And it is Allen Jerkens' time, once and for all.

For a whopping longshot who could sneak in the exotics, take a close look at Hollywood Story, who on her best day has a powerful late kick, and who looks sensational, with dapples bursting out. And my colleague Ed Fountaine pointed out that her past performance lines look very similar to another John Shirreffs-trained horse this year, Giacomo.

Another huge longshot to consider is Island Fashion, who has shown periods of extraordinary brilliance and class in her career, and probably would be considered one of the top fillies in the country had her career been managed better. The fact that she's still around and running so well shows what a talented filly she is. She also looks super, and I just have a strong feeling she is sitting on a big enough race to include her in the exotics.

NETJETS MILE: Leroidesanimaux will be the big favorite, followed by Singletary and Artie Schiller, both of whom have a big chance to score a mild upset. If Artie Schiller can take back a little, he has the rapid-fire closing kick to explode past horses, much like Kitten's joy last year. Watch his odds closely. If he's higher than 6-1, he's definitely overlay material.

But if you're looking for a real bomb, you might want to consider Limehouse, whose fifth-place finish in the Kelso Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) was much better than it looks on paper. Normally, I don't like inexperienced horses on turf in a race of this caliber, but I loved the way he ran in his first ever attempt over it. He showed good early speed, then dropped back abruptly as if he were going to finish last. Suddenly, he got his act together and made a good steady run along the inside. Inside the sixteenth pole, it was as if the proverbial light bulb went off and he realized he liked this new surface. In a flash, he gave a late surge and was flying at the finish to be beaten only 1 1/4 lengths behind two very good horses in Funfair and Artie Schiller in 1:32 4/5 for the mile.

TVG SPRINT: Well, if Lost in the Fog is going to be beaten, anyone can win. Battle Won is coming off an almost identical race, going 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Keeneland, as the one he did before romping in the Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) in 1:20 2/5. That looks to be a strong betting angle, and enough to make him worth a wager, either for win or in an exacta with Lost in the Fog. Also, he never runs a bad race, and has proven he can run very fast times. He tries hard every step of the way, and you can't ask for more than that.

Also, if Lost in the Fog does get cooked by the early pace, watch out for the late-closing Gygistar and Imperialism. I definitely will place some kind of wager on Imperialism, mainly because I've liked this horse ever since last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and just think he has a ton of class. Gygistar loves Belmont and definitely has the speed and class to pick up most of the pieces.

One note: Rick Dutrow absolutely loves Silver Train, whose exercise rider, the veteran Gustavo Rodriguez, brother of jockey and assistant trainer Rudy Rodriguez, feels he is the best horse he's ever been on.

EMIRATES AIRLINE FILLY & MARE TURF: Although there are several live longshots in the race, I just can't get away from Wonder Again, whose work on the turf the other day was as good as it gets. She no doubt loves this course, and the truth is, I started liking her to win this race the second she crossed the finish line in third in last year's running, where she ran a awesome race from the 12 post. She is coming up to this race perfectly, had an ideal prep in the Flower Bowl (gr. IT), and has a great post (seven). All she needs is a good trip. It just seems as if everything so far is falling into place for her to win this race.

I also will have to put a saver on Film Maker, who quietly runs her race every time, and if her run is timed right, she can out-close any filly in the race.

BESSEMER TRUST JUVENILE: This is not a good race for a longshot. Private Vow likely will be overlooked, and Superfly, 30-1 on the morning line, had a super work this week. First Samurai is a worthy favorite, and those right below him are all talented colts. The one horse who has really stood out in the mornings, both working and galloping, is Stevie Wonderboy, who looked like a monster galloping Friday morning.

ALBERTO VO5 JUVENILE FILLIES: With the field whittled down to 10, Adieu, Folklore, Original Spin, and Wild Fit all look tough. But if you want to take a shot on a price horse, then go for Knights Templar. No one knows for sure how good she really is. She has excellent speed numbers, and while Canadian form is always suspect down here, she looks like a top candidate for an upset.